CYC-Online 106 NOVEMBER 2007
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The impact of organizational culture in Child and Youth Care agencies

Varoshini Nadesan

Every Child and Youth Care organization has a culture which strongly influences its daily functioning. Friedman (Beker and Eisikovits, 1991) talks of the need for Child and Youth Care practitioners to have a sound knowledge of the functions of the organizations within which they work. Workers who lack understanding of organizational culture, its influences, and how to use these forces, will be weakened in their ability to serve children and youth. Indeed, research indicates that an organization's effectiveness can be maximized by analysis and understanding of organizational culture – which influences both the present and future of any organization (David, 1999; DuBrin, 2002; Van Weezel and Waaldijk, 1998 ; Robbins, 1998).

David (1999) defines organizational culture as “a pattern of behavior developed by an organization to cope with problems of external adaptation and internal integration... and is generally taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel” (1999. p.143).

According to DuBrin (2002. p.298) knowledge of organizational culture results in greater productivity, higher morale amongst staff members, creativity and innovation in program design, and effective direction of leadership activity. An awareness of organizational culture will thus assist those involved in the helping process to be aware of the impact of that culture on clients served.

Broad factors
The role of the history of an organization in influencing organizational culture is highlighted by DuBrin (2002). He states that the philosophy and personality of the organization's founder influences the shared assumptions amongst its members (p.208). For instance, in South Africa, a significant number of Child and Youth Care organizations were founded by faith-based organizations, and such organizations often continue to have a strong religious bias.

DuBrin notes further that the macro-culture, within which the organization operates, influences its beliefs and philosophies. An organization's affiliates, or branches, generally also abide by the philosophy of the parent body. Maier (1987) recognizes that within the residential Child and Youth Care system, a societal (or macro-systemic) perspective requires the adoption of management and accountability values associated with organizations. This then clashes with the requirements of micro-systems whose emphasis is on individual-oriented and personalized values within the organization.

Policy and procedures
An organization's code of conduct also adds to establishing the workplace culture, and is a key indicator of the employer’s attitude towards discipline and standards of practice (DuBrin , 2002. p. 293). The nature of the code of conduct determines whether Child and Youth Care organizations are accountable to their clientele in only sanctioning standards of practice that are acceptable.

The code of conduct is also a clear indicator of whether an organization follows acceptable labour practices, as determined by the constitution and other legislation of that country. As organizational culture can represent a major “strength or weakness of a firm” (David, 1999. p.143), it is essential that within Child and Youth Care organizations, new employees are aligned to those workers who are known to already practice effective Child and Youth Care.

Organizational culture has the ability to enhance organizational performance and personal satisfaction. The formulation of policies and procedures often help organizations to lay the foundation for cultural change. This allows for members to become aware of what is acceptable practice, in relation to, for example, protocol and channels of communication to be followed within the organization. Similarly, unwritten norms can be replaced with formal rules and regulations (Robbins, 1998). However, if the organizational culture does not reflect the changing expectations of its macro-society and its affiliates, then its effectiveness becomes a cause for concern. In South Africa, there are non-profit organizations which have not transformed their services in line with the State’s transformation policy, and may therefore not be able to access government approval or funding for services (White Paper on Social Welfare; Financing Policy Document).

Respect for cultural diversity
Hellreigel et al (2001) focuses on the term cultural audit – an evaluation of the promotion of culture within an organisation. This is evident in the language used in everyday activities, as well as in policy documents, visible displays and policies regarding holidays and cultural observances.

Cultural products
Leaders and managers appear to have various “cultural products” that can be used to influence the formulation of strategy, its implementation and the evaluation of the organization's activities. These products include cultural values, beliefs, rites and rituals, language, metaphors and folktales and stories.

Another product of importance is that of “narratives”, which include the unique stories, sagas, legends and myths in a culture. According to Hellreigel et al, narratives within an organization, often describe the individual accomplishment of the founders of the organization and can serve as a symbol of the organization's reasons for existence. This can also provide an insight into the goals of its founders and can serve as a source of motivation and inspiration to its members (Hellreigel et al, 2001).

Shared practices in the form of rites, rituals and ceremonies, often serve as a form of observable expression of cultural products. These may include specified behavior that is taboo and forbidden. Rites and rituals are in place to create strong affiliation amongst members. An organization may have an annual event to recognize the accomplishments of its members. They may, for example, formally award certificates of achievement to deserving staff. Such events assist in creating synergy amongst staff members and may include rituals to engage and disengage staff in activities (Hellreigel, 2001. p. 251; David, 1999. p.144).

Symbols can serve as a vehicle to convey the meaning of values to which the organization ascribes. According to David (1999), symbols can be expressed through logos and banners. Many Child and Youth Care organizations use pictorial representations of families to represent their commitment to promoting family life. In this light, Robbins (1998. p.616) states that all staff need to be aware of the purpose of individual symbols.

Organizations need to have a clear set of values that all members must ascribe to, and which serve as behavioral guidelines. There needs to be the opportunity for both the formal and informal exchange of ideas and reflection on values. Often members of an organization have difficulty in consciously verbalizing organizational values (David, 1999; DuBrin, 2002).

Effective leadership
The issue of leadership appears to be key to the success or failure of any program. For leaders to effectively manage organizational culture, they must have a thorough understanding of the culture of the organization, and use this knowledge to guide their own behavior and that of its members. (Hellreigel et al, 2001).

Aspinwall and Staudinger (2003) are of the view that the culture of an organization is shaped by the attitudes and standards of behavior of managers, who in turn communicate the philosophy of the organization to the workers (p.156). Leaders need to develop cultures that staff want to be a part of. Leaders also need to be effective role models as employees learn the culture of an organization through the socialization process of imitation, enacting, modeling and observation (DuBrin, 2003. p. 213). According to David (1999) leaders need to assess the organizational culture that is required and how the present culture can be shaped.

Leaders need to create environments that would increase staff loyalty, and align the worker’s interest with that of the organization (DuBrin, 2002. p.298). This can result in employing staff members who promote the values of the organization.

According to David (1999) and Hellreigel et al (2002), an understanding of organizational culture will help employers in the strategic management of the organization. They will be able to identify aspects of the culture that influence the organization negatively and that which would need to be modified. For example, the utilization of prohibited or unlawful behavior management strategies creates a coercive culture, and needs to be replaced with acceptable methods of discipline.

Employee participation should be encouraged in order to develop trust and entrench the new culture. The reward systems need to be adjusted to encourage acceptance of the new culture, for example, by acknowledging creativity as opposed to acknowledging compliance.


Aspinwall, L.G. & Staudinger, U.M. (2003). A Psychology of Human Strengths: Fundamental Questions and Future Directions for a Positive Psychology. Washington. American Psychological Association.

David, FR. (1999). Strategic Management: Concepts. 7th Edition. New Jersey. Prentice-Hall.

Department of Social Welfare. (1997). White paper on Social Welfare. Pretoria. Government Printers.

DuBrin , A.J. (2002). Fundamentals of Organizational Behaviour. USA. Thomson Learning.

Friedman, R.R. (1991). The Child Care Worker and The Organization. In Knowledge Utilization in Residential Child and Youth Care Practice . Washington. Child Welfare League of America.

Hellreigel, D. , Jackson, S.E., Slocum, J., Straude, G. & Associates. (2001). Management. South Africa. Oxford University Press.

Maier, H.W. (1987). Developmental Group care of Children and Youth: Concepts and Practice. New York. The Haworth Press.

Robbins, S.P (1998). Organization Theory: Structure, Design and Applications. New Jersey. Prentice-Hall International Inc.

Robbins, S.P (1998). Organizational Behaviour. New Jersey. Prentice-Hall.

Van Weezel , L.G. & Waaldijk , K. (1998). Organisation and Leadership. In Child and Youth Care. Vol 16 no 8 September (pp 10-11)

This feature: Nadesan, V. (2005). The impact of organizational culture in Child and Youth Care agencies. Child and Youth Care, 23, 5, May 2005, pp. 16-17.

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